We need to make content for the people, ratings will follow: Sudhir Chaudhary

As part of the exchange4media and samachar4media media leadership series, Chaudhary, Editor-in-Chief of Zee News & WION CEO, shares more on his eight-year journey with Zee News

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jul 27, 2020 12:10 PM
Sudhir Chaudhary

In these times, the challenges for the media are markedly different — we have to work round the clock and at the same time ensure that we stay safe, says Sudhir Chaudhary, Editor-in-Chief, Zee News and CEO, WION.

As part of the exchange4media and samachar4media media leadership series, Chaudhary spoke to Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld and exchange4media Group.

Chaudhary shared insights from his eight-year journey with Zee News, his definition of nationalism and his take on TV ratings.

Edited excerpts:

How have the past 100 plus days been for you?

It has definitely been a tough time. I have realised it is for the first time that people have recognised media as an essential service since they are constantly looking for credible information.

In these times, the challenges for the media are markedly different — we have to work round the clock and at the same time ensure that we stay safe.

If you remember, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Zee News had to face challenges when some of our staff members tested positive. There was a time when our entire operations were running on 10 per cent staff strength. But despite the challenges, I was amazed to see the team spirit and their mental toughness. Everyone showed how committed they are despite these challenges.

You have recently completed eight years of helming Zee News. How would you describe this journey?

I’m very proud of the brand with which I'm associated. Zee has an unparalleled recall value across age groups.

When I joined Zee News in 2012, there was tremendous competition in the news space. At that stage I realised that Zee News needed to start its 2.0 journey to stay in the leadership position.

We were the first news broadcast house that recognised the importance of highlighting a nationalist narrative that was suppressed for long. We were the first ones to challenge the old misplaced narrative of nationalism and replace it with a parallel narrative that resonated across a wider cross section of the population. There was an inherent risk of establishing this new narrative as anything truly nationalist was tagged as communal. So it was a tough choice but worth it.

The narrative of nationalism that we provided space for is now echoing across newsrooms, and the best part is that everyone is going to great lengths to be part of this.

Your role demands you to don both editorial and business hats. Tell us how do you balance the two?

There was a time when there used to be a Chinese wall between sales and the newsroom. The first fissures in this ‘wall’ occurred when TAM ratings started and in turn forced sales and editorial teams to interact more often.

To separate the CEO from the Editor, my strategy was to adopt a start-up culture. What happens in that culture is that one person is often wearing many hats. This twin role also offers me an opportunity to explain my product better to my key stakeholders.

How is the rise of digital impacting the traditional TV news?

I think the hybrid model of television news plus digital is going to stay for sometime. I believe in the coming time apps will be the new TV as news channels have increasingly become like casual snacking and appointment viewing is fast diminishing.

In all this change, I would like to see myself as a disruptor. I would like to see myself as an outsider who is not part of the system to bring a new change. It is important to bring in an outside perspective, unlike a veteran journalist who cannot think outside the system in which he/she operates.

It has been said that there is a thin line between nationalism and jingoism. We hear people say that you promote a certain news narrative that favours a particular political discourse, what do you have to say?

Yes, I often hear such allegations. I have observed that many journalists like to toe an anti-government line thinking that it will give them fame and add to their nuisance value.  And quite often, there is no merit in taking such a brazen anti-government stand, for example in case of the Rafale deal of 2019.

There are also some journalists who have an insatiable urge to be called ‘Secular-Liberal’. But liberal for them is being anti-Hindu, anti-Ram Mandir. My argument is— we need to be secular and treat all religions equally and not be seen as favouring one over the other just to promote hidden political agendas.

In your view what will be the future of TV news in a few years from now?

TV news will take a substantial jump in terms of viewership and revenue. If you compare news channels with GECs, there is a huge gap — both in terms of revenue and viewership.

The next phase of growth will be at the regional level, and as I said, the growth will be through news TV apps. Also the way newsrooms operate will also change. In fact, it is already changing with the coming of social platforms like Twitter. Now news often breaks on Twitter first and is then picked up by newsrooms. In the coming time, newsrooms will adapt to this new digital first approach effectively.

Also, I think all journalists will have to prepare themselves for a multimedia culture, they will need to upskill to stay relevant.

What is your view on TV ratings?

Indian advertisers are obsessed with TV ratings. I want to ask media houses — are you making content for TV ratings or people? Even today, every Thursday most channels look at the TV ratings to decide their content. My view is different. I believe instead of that approach, we need to make content for the people, ratings will follow, ratings are a by-product of good content.

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